Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Subject-Verb Agreement (2).

Today: False Attraction to Noun Intervening Between Subject and Verb. This subheading denotes a mistake in number usually resulting when a plural noun intervenes between a singular subject and the verb. The writer’s eye is thrown off course by the plural noun that appears nearest the verb — e.g.: o “The stalled barges and the towboats that push them along are costing the industry as much as $500,000 a day, but the ripple effect of these disruptions are [read ‘is’] incalculable.” Michael deCourcy Hinds, “River Shippers Squirm as Profits Wash Away,” N.Y. Times, 7 July 1993, at A7. o “Evaluation of rookies and free agents are [read ‘is’] the fundamental reason for playing these games.” Tim Cowlishaw, “Switzer Exhibits Restraint,” Dallas Morning News, 31 July 1994, at B1. o “Its history of domination by neighboring countries sharpen [read ‘sharpens’] a stubborn independence.” John Darnton, “Left at Altar by Norway, Europe Tries Stiff Upper Lip,” N.Y. Times, 30 Nov. 1994, at A3. This error sometimes occurs when two nouns, seeming to create a plural, intervene between the subject and the verb — e.g.: “Barefaced defiance of morals and law were [read ‘was,’ because the subject is ‘defiance’] illegal.” Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History 131 (1993). The reverse error, plural to singular, also occurs — e.g.: “While the types of illness covered varies [read ‘vary’] from one insurer to another, most pay out for heart disease, certain types of cancer and strokes.” Digby Larner, “For Parents, Just One Word: Insurance,” Int’l Herald Trib., 1-2 July 1995, at 17. Next: False Attraction to Predicate Noun. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “When the terms or expressions are in other respects equal, that ought to be preferred which is most agreeable to the ear.” George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric 158 (1776) (1850 ed. repr.: Lloyd F. Bitzer ed., 1988).
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